The rainbow of shades in Grey Gardens

“Grey Gardens” (1975) is a documentary about the curious story of a cohabiting mother and daughter whose memories of their comfortable aristocratic life completely overshadow the reality of their living conditions. They live in a beautiful mansion in total squalor but they do not seem to mind. The film is filled with shots ripe with oddities and surreal elements which will etch themselves on your mind forevermore. A middle-aged lady in a swimsuit and a headscarf reading love horoscopes out loud with a magnifying glass with a strong sonorous American twang. A mother and daughter lying in beds next to each other surrounded by cats and squalor singing, putting on hats and eating pate with lemon. Their utter detachment from reality is astonishing, veering between enviably quaint and problematically mad.

‘Big Edie’: The cat’s going to the bathroom right in back of my portrait.
‘Little Edie’: God, isn’t that awful?
‘Big Edie’: No, I’m glad he is. I’m glad somebody’s doing something he wanted to do.
“Little Edie” in action

As the film progresses, the colourful façade of dancing, singing and feeding racoons starts showing glimpses of a dubious co-dependent relationship. The daughter “Little Edie” never left home but is talking about the situation as if she was a teenager whose departure is just a matter of months. The mother “Big Edie” has a role to play in this as it turns out that she might have pulled a few heartstring here and there to keep the daughter from leaving. Neither of them are clear-cut victims in this. They want change but their ideas of who they are in their minds is preventing them from doing anything about their living situation. There will always be “another winter” for Little Edie as she will never leave. It is the distorted singing, dancing and costumes of “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” mixed with the psychological undertones and the aristocratic lull and decline of “Exterminating Angel”. Mixed up with the messiness of real life.

‘Little Edie’ : She sees me as a baby, I see myself as a little girl.
“Exterminating Angel”

All the world’s fleas would not have changed the Bouvier ladies’ idea about who they were and where they lived. The way they see themselves is completely detached from their surroundings — they are the graceful Gatsbys, the crème of the crop. There are undeniably problems surrounding how they have decided to live their lives and questions about their mental health and the morality of displaying it in a film are hard to silence. Nevertheless, their sheer reluctance to be less than they think they are worth and unwillingness to bend under the strain of destiny is remarkable. Rephrasing Pete Atkin, a special feast rages at their famine. They are lost in a bygone time but only the viewers feel the melancholic burden they are carrying, the Bouviers themselves could not care less. Whatever you take out of it, it is a multi-layered and colourful feast of oddities which has not dated a day.

While watching: curious and at times uncomfortable oddity
Enjoyment: pleases the eye and the mind throughout
Afterthoughts: unforgettable parade of colours and broken dreams
Pairs well with: “Queen of Versailles” (2012) for some apt comparisons of what it means to be rich

This is what it is all about:

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